By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
More shocking are O'Donnell's charges of political payback on the part of Abbott against one of O'Donnell's most ardent allies, Republican state Representative Ken Paxton from McKinney, who told multiple sources including O'Donnell that Abbott was out to get him for his legislative support of GAL.
Strickland strongly denies these allegations and adds that both Robert and Bob O'Donnell "have consistently demonstrated little or no regard for the truth."
On March 27, 2009, the OAG filed contempt motions against O'Donnell in the family courts of Judges Garcia and Lori Hockett. Both judges declined interviews. Each judge had signed an order removing GAL from their court dockets and only allowed it to continue receiving payments in past cases in which written consent from the custodial parent had been obtained. O'Donnell says he got that authorization where needed, but the OAG claimed those authorizations were obtained through "deceptive, confusing, misleading or illegal means."
O'Donnell had hoped to surrender his company, hand over his caseload to the OAG and simply walk away, but it wasn't that easy.
Today in front of Judge Garcia, the OAG also is complaining that the data from O'Donnell's cases is unusable, even though his father had built a customized computer program so the OAG could sort the information to its liking. "What was provided today was a little short," argues Jeff Graham, an assistant attorney general whose condescending attitude toward the O'Donnells is obvious.
"We're closer than we have ever been," counters Bob, now 78, as his son looks on from the gallery.
Although the OAG would not be placated, Garcia does not act on the contempt motion. She continues the case until February 1 unless the two sides can settle their differences before then, which seems unlikely given their disdain for each other.
O'Donnell leaves the courthouse in a profanity-laced tirade and later vents six years of frustration in an interview at his home just a short walk from his vacant former office in downtown McKinney. "I've got either an ignorant, a vindictive or an absent attorney general whose bureaucracy or him is chasing my ass for reasons unknown to me," he says.
The agony of losing his life's work has prompted O'Donnell to tell his side of the tale—his exposé of a bureaucracy run amok with Abbott at the helm and his staffers thwarting O'Donnell's efforts to stay afloat. But he insists that he's not a conspiracy theorist. "This is a cautionary tale," where the real victims are the children and those parents who are trying to support them, he says. "The mothers that [the OAG] does not service and extends false hope to—those are the ones that are damaged not only financially but psychologically because they're told that their bureaucracy is going to help them, but it doesn't."
When 49-year-old Dallas resident Lisa McDaniel divorced the father of her three children in June 1999, O'Donnell's company handled the collection of her child support. For a $10 monthly fee split between the two parties, GAL used state-of-the-art computer software to keep a real-time balance of the account and ensure payments reached McDaniel in a timely fashion. And when her ex-husband lost his job and began missing payments, one of GAL's attorneys (Bo Brown) filed a motion for enforcement in September 2008 seeking the overdue payments, interest and attorney's fees. She credits GAL for convincing him to pay off half of the debt.
"Guardian showed concern toward mothers receiving child support money," she says.
On January 30, 2009, McDaniel received a letter from Judge Garcia informing her that GAL no longer had the court's authority to act on her child support case. Garcia sent letters in more than 3,000 cases in her court, and Judge Hockett sent similar letters in the more than 2,000 GAL cases in her court. Garcia also attached her January 12 order, which only terminated her court's relationship with GAL "absent the explicit authorization or consent of the obligee [custodial parent]." Garcia, however, stressed that recipients of the letter were not required to sign consent forms. McDaniel had already signed a GAL consent form, but felt she had no choice other than to switch to the OAG.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, how political is this?' And we're caught in the middle," McDaniel says.
Now with the OAG, her checks arrive erratically—often two to three weeks late. "Sometimes my utilities and house payments are delayed because I can't pinpoint when the money is going to be in my account. So, heck, it affects you," she says. "Or just personal stuff that I need to do for myself and my child. It affects your livelihood."
When she was using GAL and didn't receive a check, McDaniel says, she could reach a live representative able to provide direct responses to her concerns. With the OAG, she is forced to use its call center, an automated system that requires customers to enter various numerical prompts before placing them on hold in order to wait to speak with an available representative. When she does reach someone, she says they're unable to answer certain questions. And although her ex-husband got his job back in early 2009 and his wages are garnisheed, she says he owes her back support from his period of unemployment. But to recoup the money, she says the OAG told her to seek her own attorney, which she can't afford.